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A new report released today by Farmworker Justice and United Farm Workers probes into the federal H-2A agricultural guest worker program designed to provide farmers and harvesters with a legal workforce. The report uncovers that the program has grown rife with abuse and is sorely lacking in legal protections for these guest workers.
The report, entitled “No Way to Treat a Guest: Why the H-2A Agricultural Visa Program Fails U.S. and Foreign Workers,” is based on interviews with former and current guest workers. It exposes how the program keeps U.S. wages low for both immigrant and native-born laborers.
Because guest workers are “non-immigrants,” their status robs them of the power to bargain with and confront employers, which leads to abuses such as debt bondage, human trafficking, forced labor, and wage theft. Roughly 10% of the U.S. agricultural labor force are guest workers, while 50-70% of it are undocumented workers.
This investigation corroborates the view that the guestworker model and the H-2A program should not be the solution to ensuring a sustainable labor force for American agriculture. Stronger protections and enforcement in the H-2A guestworker program are needed but cannot solve the labor abuses that inevitably arise. America is a nation of immigrants, not a nation of guestworkers.
The report presents potential short-term and long-term solutions to H-2A problems, including:
The passage of the Agricultural Jobs, Opportunities, Benefits, and Security Act (AgJOBS)
Increased oversight and enforcement of worker protections in the H-2A program
Freedom within the H-2A program for workers to change employers
A pathway to permanent legal immigration status for H-2A workers